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May 20, 2012

Tournaments Flirtations

We have all heard the criticism.

"It is just a money grab."

"The teams don't need to win."

"You're going to decide an automatic bid with a middle infielder on the mound?"

You know what folks, I don't care.

I like conference tournaments. If they were a girl I'd be doing some serious flirting, using my best pick-up lines, and probably get more use out of those P90X DVDs.

I'm heading out now to buy some "Just for Men" hair color and some "tan in a bottle".

Sure, some have complicated brackets and unsatisfying pool play. Some encourage pitcher overuse and others send their best team home while a lesser-team gets the conference's only Regional berth.

I don't care. I love her anyway.

Like an annoying laugh or a overbearing mother-in-law, we overlook these traits and focus on the positive.

I love seeing so many teams and players in one place.

I love seeing the fans of different schools interact and try to determine who will be the fan favorite each game. Who will the "Geaux Tigers" guy yell for when Georgia plays Florida?

I love watching the matchups unfold from the game-to-game and wonder how the pitching will hold up as they move forward. Will someone step up that hasn't put it together all season and become a story fans tell 20 years later?

But most of all I love watching how each game can affect the postseason futures for many different teams.

Tournament week signals the beginning of the postseason with Selection Day, Regionals, Supers, and the CWS looming. It is the best time of my season.

So what teams should we be watching this season? Below are some clubs with plenty to play for in their respective conference tournaments:

South Carolina may or may not be a National seed entering the week but a poor showing in Hoovern paired with good weeks from teams like Stanford, Texas A&M, or Rice could push them out.

Kentucky has plummeted from National seed hopeful to a club that might be in danger of a road trip next week. The Wildcats' SEC record is strong but they have faded late and don't have a strong non-conference mark to rely on. If they falter and someone like Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, Miami, or maybe even conference mates Arkansas or Mississippi State make a run, the Cats might not hear their name called next Sunday as a host.

If Georgia exits Hoover quickly, they may have played their last game. Definitely a bubble team entering Tuesday's game against Vanderbilt.

Auburn, the 10 seed in Hoover, likely needs at least two wins to get back in the discussion. They face Florida Tuesday and if they win would play LSU. Win those two and suddenly we view them differently.

The ACC has enjoyed a banner year and figures to have Florida State and North Carolina as National seeds and NC State and Virginia join them as hosts.

The Tar Heels may be a bit vulnerable as a National seed so they do not need to leave the door open for a team to take their spot.

Virginia would seem to be one of the final host teams so a poor showing would allow someone to push them for a final spot. The Cavaliers should watch for Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, Miami, Arkansas, and Mississippi State.

Wake Forest swept Clemson to earn their way into the eight-team ACC Tournament. Another win or two this week would sure make their Memorial Day BBQ more relaxing.

Georgia Tech is another club that could use some resume padding this week.

ACC mates Virginia Tech and Maryland are bubble teams that did not qualify for the party in Greensboro. Their seasons are most likely complete.

I've seen people pushing Tulane as a probable Regional team but I'm not sold they have an at large worthy resume. Their RPI is in the high 50s and their non-conference schedule strength is abysmal. That said, a few wins this week and things could get interesting. They face East Carolina, UAB, and UCF in pool play. One would expect their RPI rank to climb if they win their bracket. If they get some help, who knows?

The Southern Conference teams to watch this week are College of Charleston, Elon, and Samford. Charleston has the best resume outside of SoCon champ Appalachian State but the Cougars do not have anything wrapped up at this point - especially if someone than the Mountaineers win the automatic.

The Southland is another conference with lots of intrigue in the tournament. Sam Houston State would appear to be in but their RPI rank is hovering around 50. Many similar resumes from conference champs have been left out in prior seasons. Southeastern Louisiana and Texas State are also hoping to increase their stock this week. One would think this ends up being a two-bid league.

The Missouri Valley has three teams on the bubble in Missouri State, Indiana State, and Wichita State all have similar resumes. It is doubtful all three make it in.

Gonzaga is a team that appeared to a slam-dunk at large team a few weeks ago but is now a bubble team out of the WCC. They visit BYU for a three game set after a Tuesday game at Washington State.

St. John's would be another team that may be need to pad their resume this week. (Insert joke about the Johnnies' "Automatic at large" berth here)

Texas and Oklahoma are probably in the field but if they were to struggle this week, things could get dicey for either of them.

Another storyline to follow this season is always popular stolen bids. This occurs when a team that would not otherwise receive an at large bid receives the automatic bid while a higher rated team from the conference receives an at large bid instead of an automatic. We typically have two or three of these.

If you are a bubble team, you want to pull for favorites in these conference tournaments.

Examples where this could occur:

Conference USA: If anyone but Rice, UCF, or East Carolina wins.
Southern: If anyone but Appalachian State wins
Big South: Anyone but Coastal Carolina
Big East: Anyone but Louisville
CAA: Anyone but UNC-Wilmington
Mt West: Anyone but TCU
WAC: Anyone but New Mexico State
Big XII: Anyone but Baylor or Texas A&M

See lots of action in and around conference tournaments this week. Lather on the sunscreen, stay hydrated, and by all means keep it plugged into SEBaseball.com this week as we try to figure out how the Missouri Valley loser's bracket outcome affects a pool play game in the ACC. You know you want to know.

Conference Tournament week, ain't she pretty.


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